Slice it anyway you like, but there is a very clear distinction between the DC Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) and the structured nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Whereas the MCU has produced a clear cut and public plan since the release of “Iron Man 2”, one that will eventually end with the much-hyped “Avengers: Infinity War” in 2018, we have no idea how the DCEU will develop over the next few years.
To make matters worse, the DC films that have already been released are somewhat-to-outright hated by some critics and audiences, even alienating die-hard DC comics fans. This year’s releases, “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” both have absurdly low scores on Rotten Tomatoes, sitting somewhere around 30% each.
Many people felt deceived by Suicide Squad’s trailers, which seem to advertise a different kind of movie than what was actually released. A large amount of this criticism is well deserved. Badly paced and tonally inconsistent, the movie attempts to balance “Guardians of the Galaxy”-ish humor with gritty realism, not quite landing either. In addition, there are multiple scenes from trailers that simply don’t appear at all during the film’s two hour runtime.
However, these flaws seem to be all that many critics focused on, while completely ignoring the film’s strengths. The movie is almost perfectly cast, with Viola Davis and Jared Leto giving memorable performances. Suicide Squad’s use of glamorous violence and the “gangsterization” of these villains provides a unique counterpoint to how supervillains have been traditionally portrayed in superhero movies so far.
The main problem with “Suicide Squad” lies not so much in the script, or the actors, or even the director, but in executive meddling. DC comics is owned by Warner Bros just as Marvel is owned by the Walt Disney Company. The majority of the films put out by Marvel practically define the term “designed by committee.” However, while Disney’s executive meddling usually results in a completely serviceable superhero movie, Warner Bros. involvement usually results in a schizophrenic mess of superhero cinema.
Despite these glaring issues, I’m actually excited to see what the future of the DCEU holds. In part, this is because it’s not really hard to tell how the MCU is going to play out. One can fully expect “Infinity War” to play exactly like the previous two Avengers films: a dangerous (and witty) villain appears to take over the world alongside a large army of faceless mooks, the Avengers bicker, get past their differences, and have a long, protracted fight scene with said villain.
On the other hand, I have no idea how DC’s “Justice League” is going to play out. There have already been shakeups within the executive planning committee at Warner Bros., with DC’s CCO Geoff Johns recently promoted to its new head, playing a similar role that producer Kevin Feige fills over at Marvel Studios. Both men will steer the tone and course of their respective movie franchises.
Johns previously worked on CW DC television shows, such as “Flash,” “Arrow,” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” all of which have cultivated a large and passionate fanbase, at least in part due to the crowd-pleasing nature of the shows, constantly acknowledging the larger DC Universe, and not being afraid to throw more outlandish concepts at viewers (like the existence of multiverses).
It’s very possible future releases of the DCEU could actually reflect the CW shows’ more optimistic take on superheroes, and will allow for the possibility of a crossover between DC’s theatrical and televised franchises. If Warner Bros. can actually take advantage of its current predicament to make use of their properties in ways that haven’t really been considered yet, there’s no reason why the DCEU can’t become just as large of a success as the MCU has.